Scams advice – how to avoid falling victim

6 min Read Published: 21 Apr 2022

Scams advice - how to stay protected

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep your money safe as scammers continue to come up with sophisticated ways of trying to access your cash.

What is a scam?

A scam is where a criminal cons somebody to access money or personal details. Scams have been affecting people for years but due to technological advances, they have become increasingly convincing. Previously, scammers would often target victims by post or by door-to-door cold calling but their schemes are becoming far more advanced. Scammers have also taken to using emails, phone calls, text messages, and social media. But how do you spot a scammer before you lose your money?

How to spot a scam

Scammers are becoming more sophisticated with increased access to technology. Below we share some tips to help you spot a scam.

Have you received a random phone call?

Most utility companies and banks rarely contact customers out of the blue, so before sharing any personal information with them be sure to verify their identity and authenticity. The same applies if you have received a random letter or email, call the company to verify the contact and if you are not sure, don't give anything away.

Have you been asked to give out personal details?

Companies that are legitimate will not ask for personal details such as your PIN or bank account information. Do not give this information to anybody.

Have you received a suspicious email?

Illegitimate emails can be distinguished by hovering over the sender's email address. If the email address that appears does not match who it is claiming to be from then it is likely to be a scam. Sometimes the email address will have lots of numbers and letters or you may notice that the name is misspelt; these should all be red flags. Do not click on any links or attachments in the email, report as phishing and delete.

Have you felt pressurised?

Fraudsters apply pressure to make you feel flustered and prevent you from thinking rationally, especially if they have asked for an illegitimate bank transfer. Most companies would not apply pressure to make you commit to a purchase and if they do it is best to not trust them.

Does it sound too good to be true?

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These types of scam generally offer amazing savings or good returns at a low cost

Have you been told you've won a competition you didn't enter?

If you've been told you have won a prize or a sum of money from a competition you don't remember entering, it is likely to be a scam.

Are there obvious grammatical errors or spelling mistakes?

Communication from legitimate companies will rarely contain spelling mistakes and it is rarer still to find multiple errors. Be aware if you receive anything with multiple spelling errors.

What are the different types of scam and key signs to look out for?

Scammers are becoming more and more intelligent and as a result, duping millions of pounds out of the British public a year. It is important to familiarise yourself with the different types of scams so that you can be aware and protect you and your family from falling victim.

Phishing scams

Phishing scams are one of the most popular types of scam and are the sort that fill your junk mail folder every day. Phishing scams are emails that seem to be from a legitimate source, such as HMRC, Apple or Netflix and often contain a link to either 'unlock your account' or 'claim back' money you are owed. Sometimes the emails include infected attachments that place a virus on your device if you click on them.

What to look out for:

  • Check to see if you recognise the email address and sender - sometimes the sender will say 'Apple' but the email address will be completely different. Some mailboxes let you hover over the sender and the email address will appear.
  • Check for spelling mistakes - legitimate emails will not include spelling mistakes.
  • See how you have been addressed in the email, legitimate emails tend to address the receiver personally rather than a generic Sir/Madam.

Phone call scam (vishing)

A vishing phone call is when a fraudster pretends to be working for a reputable company in a bid to get your personal information. An example is someone pretending to be from a TV, phone, or utility company such as Sky or BT, and asking you to confirm your personal account details. Some scammers also call pretending that they need to fix your laptop or computer. They then infect your device and gain access to all of your personal information. A computer software company wouldn't call you over the telephone out of the blue.

What to look out for:

  • Never give out sensitive information over the phone.
  • If the caller is being pushy and aggressive, be suspicious of their intentions.
  • If you are suspicious, hang-up and call your provider.

Some scammers have the ability to hack phone lines, ensure you wait a few minutes or use a different phone to call the provider. We explain more on this method scammers use in our podcast episode #214. 

Text message scams (smishing)

There has been an increase in the amount of text message scams in recent years. Fraudsters are able to mask the number so that the message you receive appears to be from a legitimate source, such as HMRC or your bank. Sometimes the messages contain a link, encouraging you to enter your personal details. Others have telephone numbers to call.

What to look out for:

  • If the message has been received out of the blue, be wary of it.
  • Don't click on any links in the message.
  • Legitimate companies will not ask for personal details via text message.

Authorised push payment fraud (APP fraud)

APP fraud is when scammers convince you to send money to them through a BACS transfer. This type of fraud can make it difficult for you to get your money back, as although it is a scam, the payment has been authorised and legitimately transferred by you.

What to look out for:

  • Double-check you know the sender and recipient of the money.
  • Take steps to ensure it is a legitimate payment request before transferring money to stand a better chance of getting your money back.

A new scheme was launched in 2019 that offers better protection and improved money back guarantee. To find out more and to see if your bank is one of those that signed up to the scheme, read our article "New fraud protection scheme launches: are you covered?" 

Pension and investment scams

Pension and investment scammers generally target victims by telephone due to the large sum of money that they could gain access to.

What to look out for:

  • Be wary of random phone calls - if you do not recognise the caller or feel uneasy, end the call.
  • If an offer seems too good to be true then it most probably is.
  • Never give away bank or personal details over the telephone.

Bitcoin/Cryptocurrency scam

Bitcoin and cryptocurrency scams have increased drastically as cryptocurrency popularity has grown. A cryptocurrency scam can be via email, text, phone call, or even a direct social media message, and tends to include a link to buy fake cryptocurrency or a fake investment that offers big returns for a relatively low cost.

What to look out for:

  • Does the deal you're being offered sound too good to be true? If so it is likely that it is.
  • Did you see the advert for the currency on social media or receive it via email? Scammers are good at making the scams look as genuine as possible. It is also hard for scammers to be traced if you fall victim, due to the anonymity of cryptocurrency.
  • Check the legitimacy of the website by looking out for https:// in the website URL.

More information on crypto scams can be found in MTTM podcast episode 336.

How to protect yourself from a scam

There are lots of different types of scams, even more than those listed above, so it is important to stay vigilant to avoid becoming a victim of fraud. Below is a list of key points to ensure you're protected, particularly when online:

  • Be suspicious of random phone calls, emails, text messages or door to door cold callers.
  • Stop and think rationally before sending any money or acting upon something you are not sure about.
  • Ensure your personal WiFi is secured with a password and do not access sensitive information when on a public WiFi network.
  • Ensure your devices are supporting the latest virus protection software.
  • Use strong passwords and never use the same password across all accounts - check out our article "How secure is my password and how to make it stronger".
  • Do not share your personal information or passwords with anyone.

What do I do if I think I have been scammed?

If you think you or a family member has been a victim of fraud, it is important to report it immediately. Reporting a scam helps others to not fall victim to the same scam, as well as helping to track and prosecute scammers.

  1. Report it to the local police on 101, particularly if you've transferred money within the last 24 hours or if the scammer is actively operating door to door.
  2. Report the scam to ActionFraud. This generates a police crime reference number which can ensure it is investigated. You can report a scam even if you managed to stop yourself from falling victim.
  3. Report the email within your mailbox by marking it as 'phishing' or 'scam'.
  4. Report it to the company the fraudsters are claiming to be. They may not be aware that someone is impersonating them.
  5. Report it to Citizens Advice who will contact the trading standards.
  6. Contact your bank, particularly if you have lost money as you may be able to claim it back.

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